Colorado Medical Society

Executive office update: The Rocky-United deal: Rock on!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017 05:43 AM

UnitedHealth Group’s proposed acquisition of the venerable Rocky Mountain Health Plans, currently pending before state regulators, is unlike any in our previous experience. The level of transparency and cooperation by both Rocky and United has been unprecedented in contrast to our involvement with other acquisitions. Given the controversy and potential impacts of consolidation, this level of conduct should set the standard for insurance industry mergers and acquisitions across the country. As industry consolidation increases along with enhanced market share and power, policymakers need to address the gaps between stakeholder involvement and final decision-making by regulators, but that is a different topic for a future column. 

Rather than United, Rocky is way out front in the community promoting the benefits of the acquisition, not the least of which is the vital component that Rocky’s brand and mission, along with the current management team and corporate headquarters in Grand Junction, will remain intact. This is a big deal on the Western Slope for a variety of reasons. A Montrose physician put it this way: “Health care in western Colorado was shaped in large measure by the non-profit nature of RMHP as the dominant carrier and provider partner, and we want our valued working relationship to continue uninterrupted.”

As is the case with any merger or acquisition that could impact our members, we stepped in to take a closer look. We examined the acquisition for its real-world impact on physicians and patients, with the specific goal of determining opportunities to enhance the agreement and expand collaboration with the merged companies if approved by state regulators. This decision resulted in numerous in-person Western Slope listening sessions with physicians and additional conversations with the two companies.

These positive dynamics – transparency and collegial interaction, Rocky’s belief in the benefits of the acquisition and input from our Western Slope members – created a dialogue that helped us better understand the legal aspects of the agreement, the concerns and aspirations of our Western Slope members. We also got a sense for United’s motives, two of which hold promise and, not surprisingly, are based on Rocky’s approach and style.

The first involves Medicaid, a large and growing payer in Colorado. United has a significant Medicaid line of business and views Rocky’s Medicaid innovations, including payment reforms, as a laboratory for improvement in their system. The second is a vision from United’s CEO that United will study and learn Rocky’s way of doing business with physicians and apply what they learn to other parts of the country.

Well over 40 years ago, slightly before the time I started in the business of physician advocacy, a small group of dedicated practicing physicians in Grand Junction had a vision to build a health plan with a culture to work with them as partners. Since that time, Rocky has earned a national reputation and recognition for outstanding achievements as a community-based health plan.  Should that pioneering spirit and collaborative vision from some 40 years back take hold in United, Grand Junction will be back in the spotlight and we’ll be saluting their achievement once again.